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Vulnerabilities: Floods

Floods are the most common natural disaster in Europe. The adverse human health consequences of flooding are complex and far-reaching: these include drowning, injuries, and an increased incidence of common mental disorders. Anxiety and depression may last for months and possibly even years after the flood event and so the true health burden is rarely appreciated (1).

Effects of floods on communicable diseases appear relatively infrequent in Europe. The vulnerability of a person or group is defined in terms of their capacity to anticipate, cope with, resist and recover from the impact of a natural hazard. Determining vulnerability is a major challenge. Vulnerable groups within communities to the health impacts of flooding are the elderly, disabled, children, women, ethnic minorities, and those on low incomes (1).

Vulnerabilities: Water quality

In many parts of the world, water quality of inland streams, rivers and coastal waters suffers from pollutants from population and (agricultural) land use. This pollution may change because future precipitation will change, and so will pollutant transport to water bodies, and dilution of pollutants during high and low flows (13).

The impacts of climate change (precipitation and temperature) and land use on the daily microbial contamination of surface water were investigated for two catchments in the west of Ireland (12). This was done for an intermediate (RCP4.5) and a high-end (RCP8.5) scenario of climate change, and a potential worst-case land use scenario, for the period 2041 - 2060. Under the scenarios of climate change, changes in precipitation typically follow projected changes in future precipitation, with a stronger effect for the high-end than the intermediate scenario. A realistic worst-case land use scenario was used, based on the dominance of pasture and livestock in the study area: the cattle/sheep populations of 1998, when densities were at their highest level in the past 20 years. Manure applied to land as fertilizer (slurry and farm yard manure) and manure deposited from livestock grazing are major diffuse contaminant sources in the studied catchments. In addition, increase of effluent discharges from wastewater treatment plants and septic systems was assumed reflecting an estimated increase in human population of 17% (14). 

The results show that daily microbial load will likely increase on an annual basis, following seasonal variations in precipitation and streamflow. Future winters represent periods of increased risk: increases in winter rainfall (intensity and frequency) according to the climate change scenarios produced significant effects on the transport of microbial pollutants. The land use scenario produced significant increases in microbial load compared with the current situation, across all seasons and flow conditions. The impacts are magnified when combined with the climate change scenarios. Future variations in land use/management may be as important as the effects of climate change on in-stream microbial pollutant loads (12).

It is generally expected that as climate changes, a greater proportion of annual precipitation will occur in larger magnitude events. More intense precipitation will contribute a greater fraction to direct runoff and may also cause a nonlinear increase in sediment erosion and pollutant loading. Within Ireland, the frequency of heavy precipitation events also shows notable increases, in particular for winter (15). Under the high-end scenario the frequency of very wet days (over 20 mm of precipitation) may increase by more than 20% in winter between now and halfway this century (15). 

In Ireland, a link between flooding and waterborne transmission of pathogens was established for the flooding in the winter of 2015-2016 (16).

Adaptation strategies - General - Heatwaves

The outcomes from the two European heat waves of 2003 and 2006 have been summarized by the IPCC (2) and are summarized below. They include public health approaches to reducing exposure, assessing heat mortality, communication and education, and adapting the urban infrastructure.

1. Public health approaches to reducing exposure

A common public health approach to reducing exposure is the Heat Warning System (HWS) or Heat Action Response System. The four components of the latter include an alert protocol, community response plan, communication plan, and evaluation plan (3). The HWS is represented by the multiple dimensions of the EuroHeat plan, such as a lead agency to coordinate the alert, an alert system, an information outreach plan, long-term infrastructural planning, and preparedness actions for the health care system (4).

The European Network of Meteorological Services has created Meteoalarm as a way to coordinate warnings and to differentiate them across regions (5). There are a range of approaches used to trigger alerts and a range of response measures implemented once an alert has been triggered. In some cases, departments of emergency management lead the endeavor, while in others public health-related agencies are most responsible (6).

2. Assessing heat mortality

Assessing excess mortality is the most widely used means of assessing the health impact of heat-related extreme events.

3. Communication and education

One particularly difficult aspect of heat preparedness is communicating risk. In many locations populations are unaware of their risk and heat wave warning systems go largely unheeded (7). Some evidence has even shown that top-down educational messages do not result in appropriate resultant actions (8).

More generally, research shows that communication about heat preparedness centered on engaging with communities results in increased awareness compared with top-down messages (9).

4. Adapting the urban infrastructure

Several types of infrastructural measures can be taken to prevent negative outcomes of heat-related extreme events. Models suggest that significant reductions in heat-related illness would result from land use modifications that increase albedo, proportion of vegetative cover, thermal conductivity, and emissivity in urban areas (10). Reducing energy consumption in buildings can improve resilience, since localized systems are less dependent on vulnerable energy infrastructure. In addition, by better insulating residential dwellings, people would suffer less effect from heat hazards. Financial incentives have been tested in some countries as a means to increase energy efficiency by supporting those who are insulating their homes. Urban greening can also reduce temperatures, protecting local populations and reducing energy demands (11).


The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Ireland.

  1. Hajat et al. (2003)
  2. IPCC (2012)
  3. Health Canada (2010), in: IPCC (2012)
  4. WHO (2007), in: IPCC (2012)
  5. Bartzokas et al. (2010), in: IPCC (2012)
  6. McCormick (2010b), in: IPCC (2012)
  7. Luber and McGeehin (2008), in: IPCC (2012)
  8. Semenza et al. (2008)), in: IPCC (2012)
  9. Smoyer-Tomic and Rainham (2001), in: IPCC (2012)
  10. Yip et al. (2008); Silva et al. (2010), both in: IPCC (2012)
  11. Akbari et al. (2001), in: IPCC (2012)
  12. Coffey et al. (2016)
  13. Coffey et al. (2014); Gray (2014); Hofstra (2011); Quevauviller (2011); Rehana and Mujumdar (2012); St Laurent and Mazumder (2014); Tong et al. (2012); Wu et al. (2012), all in: Coffey et al. (2016)
  14. Eurostat (2014); Irish Central Statistics Office (CSO) (2013), both in: Coffey et al. (2016)
  15. Gleeson et al. 2013, in: Coffey et al. (2016)
  16. Boudou et al. (2021)

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